Imagine a situation where young kids who aspire to be cartoonists or guitar players are placed in classes where they are regularly graded and ranked on their prowess. If students scored near the bottom consistently, how more likely would it be that they give up or develop an inferiority complex? Hell, I know confident, well-adjusted adults who would not persist in the face of constant scrutiny if, say, their burgeoning cooking skills were graded and ranked in such a manner. So why do we do it with children? Competitiveness in our school system, while it may be necessary at some point, detracts from a cooperative learning environment, favors those students who are best at rote memorization, and discourages the students who consistently rank near the bottom of classes before they get a chance to figure out which learning habits work best for them.
I believe the dissolution of class ranks and GPA tracking until high school, if it is even necessary then, will help to assuage these shortcomings. It is not that I believe in some hippie idealistic world where competition ceases to exist. It is just that I believe it is unnecessary to establish class ranks and GPAs before students need to be differentiated for college acceptance. If, as I have suggested in a different post, we use technology to create more parity in instruction and allow students to progress at their own rate, it will no longer be necessary to put students in gifted tracks and specialized programs (http://chankyr.com/2012/11/11/delocalizing-the-talents-of-top-teachers/). Furthermore, higher standards for passing educational units can be enforced instead of pushing students through to keep the herd together, so to speak. Students should obviously be informed of which questions they missed, but there shouldn’t be a percentage or grade associated with their performance. Naturally, they can figure out their percentage, but if it is deemphasized by the administration, they will not be as likely to become preoccupied with scores. Performance statistics on homework and tests and the number of attempts needed to pass a unit will be available to teachers and administrators so that they can assess progress. Without a class as we know it, there will not exist a class rank. However there will be something better: a much wider pool of students, hopefully nation-wide eventually, who are learning from the same material irrespective of school, age, and class. From this data we can see important correlations that can be investigated to further improve education.
The main benefit of this system of student assessment will be that the education process will be less discouraging during formative years. This system is also more likely to foster a love of learning for learning’s sake as opposed to an interest in learning as a means to establishing a position within a pecking order. It is in the best interest of society to have as many of its members realize their potential. An education system that produces a population of life-long learners with a critical eye ought to be the aim.